SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The leader of the Mormon church thanked members Saturday for their dedication to their faith and service at the start of a two-day spring meeting that draws more than 100,000 to Salt Lake City.”Thank you my brothers and sisters for your faith and devotion,” President Thomas S. Monson said. “You serve willingly and well and accomplish great good.”The event comes days before The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints marks the 180th anniversary of its founding – April 6 – by Joseph Smith, Jr.It is also the 25th year that the 13 million-member, Utah-based church has operated a worldwide humanitarian assistance program, which provides medical supplies, food, clothing, hygiene kits and other relief supplies. Since its start in 1985, the program has provided some $1.1 billion in aid in response to natural disasters, and to support initiatives that promote health and disease prevention, employment and other programs to ease poverty, according to a church Web site.Money for the program comes from donations and offerings that are separate from tithing funds collected annually by the church from members.Over the past three months, the church has shipped disaster relief to aid to Haiti, Chile and a half dozen other locations in the U.S. and abroad, Monson said Saturday.”We will always strive to be among the first on the scene of disasters, wherever they may occur,” Monson said.Church-sponsored relief arrived in Haiti within days of the devastating Jan. 12 magnitude-7 earthquake that destroyed much of the country’s capital city, Port-au-Prince. The Haitian government estimates as many as 300,000 were killed in the quake, which also left many of the country’s 1.3 million people homeless.The church used its nine chapels in Haiti to temporarily house some 5,000 people and brought in truckloads of supplies, including tents, water purification systems and blankets from the Dominican Republic. A team of doctors was also sent from Utah.”Basic needs were met, and order began to emerge out of chaos,” said Wilford W. Andersen, a senior leader assigned to church activity in the Caribbean. “Though the faithful Haitian saints have suffered greatly, they are filled with hope for the future.”Mormons gather twice yearly – April and October – to hear words of inspiration and guidance for daily living from the faith’s senior leaders. Five two-hour sessions are held at the church’s 21,000-seat center in downtown Salt Lake City. Millions more view the proceedings on satellite broadcasts, radio or via the Internet.The broadcasts are translated into more than 80 languages.
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